September 15, 2009

What Does Solving Homelessness Look Like?

What does solving homelessness look like? If you are like me, you’ve asked yourself that question a few 100 times. Maybe a better way to start thinking about that question is what it DOES NOT look like.

It doesn’t look like serving the homeless, unless serving the homeless means more than a transaction around a bowl of soup, a shelter bed and a weekly case management visit with a few hugs thrown in there. Solving homelessness is based on forging a relationship with the person around a plan to help the person solve the underlying reasons that got them homeless. It’s not about transactions. It’s about partnership. And yes, in case you are wondering, it is possible to form a partnership with a mentally ill homeless person or a homeless person slinging dope on the streets. It may start with a bowl of soup, but it quickly changes into a strategic intervention plan with very purposeful goals and objectives that include getting shoulder to shoulder with the person around a conversation to get off and stay off the streets.

It doesn’t look like helping the homeless person at the expense of the community. In other words if what we are doing is stringing together transactions around soup bowls and shelter beds we are going to really piss off our community. We see this in the news all the time. Neighborhoods come unglued. This is the natural consequence to what happens when a church, a nonprofit or a program “helps” the homeless at the expense of the community. Again, it’s not about transactions, it’s about partnerships with those in our community too. And those partnerships MUST be purposeful and meaningful or people are going to see through it and get pissed off.

There is a long list of what solving homelessness doesn’t look like, but I am going to stop with this third example. Solving homelessness doesn’t look like the image of my buddies down there in San Diego with pitchforks and battle axes whacking at the toes of Godzilla. That is what we are doing in my humble opinion of 17 years on the front lines of this thing. Our battle plan sucks (sorry, I had to use the adjective that my 12 year old uses when I tell her to clean the garage without getting her the skills, knowledge and resources to do it right). The battle plan LOOKS like we are doing all kinds of really cool and important things like feeding, sheltering, serving, hugging and case managing the homeless. But in reality we are getting our butts handed to us. This opponent called homelessness can be defeated, but instead of crafting a real plan, a plan based around solving this thing (and perhaps putting some folks out of business) we just keep gleefully whacking away at symptoms. Hugs and Smiles - Chris Megison

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